Age does not seem to be celebrated in this country.

Which is odd because we covet old things, just not people. Vintage is hip, as is antique or distressed furniture. We like our wines and our cheeses aged. Old buildings and classic cars are held in the highest esteem. My son collects old comic books and the woman who cuts my hair buys old estate jewelry.

We like old things and yet we don’t see value in aging or old people. We don’t want to show them off to our friends and often times lovingly restoring them takes too much time or effort. It seems in this country people just get old, put out to pasture, past their prime. Some will blame this on the fact that we are a visual society and old people are simply no longer firm and perky and pretty. We tend to look back at old pictures and comment on how beautiful or handsome they were.

“Were”, I imagine that’s an awful word if you are old or even on your way to old. I have seen some stunning older people, as etched and full of character as the finest Victorian home, but youth and new seem to be dominant themes when it comes to human beings.

Society intentionally or unintentionally conveys that older people looked their best, did all their best work, made all their contributions when they were younger. We cut them off, enroll them in Medicare, send them to senior water ballet, put them on the AARP mailing list and tell them that what they “were” was most important.

Michael has this frying pan. It’s a big one, two handles. The glass cover broke a while ago and it is black and stained. I didn’t like the look of it, so I tried to replace it. I bought him a beautiful, shiny new pan for Christmas that now sits in the bottom drawer below our stove.

He uses the old one at least 2-3 times a week. It never really sees a drawer, it can usually be found sitting on the cooktop. It’s still an unsightly pan, but what it can do, what it has cooked now outweighs the look. It holds a position of importance in the kitchen.

The old pan is Michael’s favorite because as he puts it, “It is finally broken in.” High flame, simmer, browning, on the stove, into the oven, there is nothing this pan can’t do. It has been the star, the supporter, of some of his best meals.

Older people are not always easy, but I see value. They may not be new and it is possible some of their best looks are behind them, but they have the fine patina of a human being “finally broken in.”

Perhaps we should continue to work with them well after their outward shine has faded, put them right up on the cooktop, and allow them in the game. Maybe if we believe some of their best meals still lie ahead of them, they will believe it too.

My thoughts from the laundry room. No Curfew.

adulthood age America life meaning thoughts

93 Comments Leave a comment

      • Excellent piece, this. One reason I have just entered the blogging world is that I _do_ have things to say, observations to make and stories to tell. They may not receive an A grade from any writing instructor, but that is not the point. I am one of the “Greatest” generation for whom V-J day is contemporary history. So I will be writing for me, for my family, and anyone else who cares to drop by. Perhaps this work of yours will stir people to recognize that having a plethora of birthdays does not automatically dehumanize one. There is not a set time for our brains, or hearts, loves, and humor to fall out. Thank you, thank you for this.

      • Thank you for reading and your lovely comments. I’m thrilled that you’ve entered the blogging world. It needs you and your writings. Plethora of birthdays…I love that. I will be following your blog and look forward to reading your thoughts.

  1. Age is just a number & when it comes to people it is more about the mind set. I read an article today about a 70 year old women that was hitting the gym with the best of them and bench pressing 100 LBS +.

    • But age also is a function of the genetic package one has received. Trying to live up to one’s past physicality when body parts are wearing out or otherwise succumbing to the passage of time can lead to real injury. Joints go arthritic, cartilage wears thin, etc. That said, I agree with you. A positive outlook on life can go a long way to keeping one’s health at whatever peak is possible, and one’s happiness quotient in the upper quartile.

  2. In Southeast Asian culture, we treat old people very differently. It is virtually unheard of to shove our elders in retirement homes or treat them as if they have nothing to contribute. I am struggling to learn as much as I can from my older relatives because our culture in America will die with them otherwise. My younger cousins don’t understand and have adopted the Western view of the elderly. It breaks my heart.

  3. It seems to be cultural issue of the western world, we are superficial and beauty rules above all else. Personally, I plan to age gracefully and look at all those around me scrambling to remain youthful and chuckle to myself. Life’s to short to worry.

  4. I enjoyed reading this. I thought you did a wonderful job at capturing the importance of this population, not just the new and young. I work with the elderly at a retirement home, and I love it! I love hearing their stories and their wisdom and experience. You really can learn alot if we would stop and listen. Beautiful piece and thank you.

  5. What a lovely and thought provoking read! Thank you for sharing. It’s almost like when you get old you lose your identity in the eyes of society. Ever notice that? For instance, I work with a lot of elderly people at the accounting firm I work for. One of my co-workers says he loves it, and “…old people are just so funny!” To me, that has nothing to do with their age. To me, that person was probably always funny, but because they are wrinkled and hard of hearing – and society has some weird expectation of the dialogue that comes from an elderly person’s mouth – it’s funny. I don’t get it. Yeah, I’ve witness some old people who piss me off on the roads and I think they shouldn’t be driving. THEY shouldn’t be driving, but not ALL old people should be lumped in that category.

    Rant over! Thanks so much! Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Heidi –
      I have noticed that too. It’s as if people are surprised to find older people multidimensional human beings. As with all people, they should never be grouped together under one stereotype. I loved your rant. Thank you for visiting.

  6. Great piece. As a writer who is always interested in stories, I find the elderly to be a fascinating community. There is so much knowledge that they have, so many stories that they have lived through. I can only imagine what it must be like to watch the world go through so many changes.

  7. Wonderful piece of writing. This is one of the topics that is sure to touch my heart. I always feel like we don’t make enough time for older people, and then suddenly it is too late.
    I love seeing old people going on tours or meeting up with their friends and enjoying themselves 🙂 I see this in Japan a lot, and think it’s great!

  8. Beautiful post – and so true. I work at one of those little libraries that still hasn’t gone digital, so I’m around a lot of elderly people. Some of them will make your day, others will make it difficult. Those who are still young enough on the inside to have real excitement, curiosity, and joy in their lives will always make you happy, and they’re the ones who bring their grandkids with them most of the time too.

    • Thank you. They are probably the people, as Karl Drobnic commented, that invested in their lives, gave of themselves as they aged, and are now loved and respected. I’m sure the excitement and curiosity of youth is a bond that keeps people happy. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your comment.

  9. I loved this piece and see value as well. After life has broken people in, reactions and overview come from somewhere other than hot emotion and aim. And that somewhere else is comprised of insight that can help us be in life or deal with it better.

    @Karl Drobnic I really enjoyed your response to this piece, and agree.

  10. Personally, I get a lot of enjoyment talking with seniors. They have interesting stories and I ask questions about their lives. Having had an interest all my life in older people’s pasts, I very much enjoy hearing their personal stories – and they appreciate having the opportunity to tell them.

    Just the other night, my husband and I were at a dinner where the age demographics ranged from 30 – 80. We sat beside a few seniors and had such a blast — the wine was flowing, and the company was great. Once we started engaging them in conversation, we had so much fun. My husband won the table prize, which was the hot pepper plant – and that in itself was a fun topic of conversation. We learned about their gardens, what they grow – and they laughed with us when we shared some of our experienced gardening stories.

    Anyway – I hope we all take the time to engage in conversation even for a few minutes with our seniors.

    • My Old Friend

      How long old friend shall I be with you?
      It’s been a fast and merry ride.
      At times a bit too exciting
      When we’ve had no place to hide.

      While others, we’ve languished along the way
      All peaceful and serene.
      And oh the mountains we’ve climbed upon
      And the valleys deep we’ve seen.

      But now that the time is drawing nigh
      When it’s ruled we must depart.
      Now I wonder how it would have been
      Had we had a different start.

      But then what more than what we’ve had
      What more could we have done?
      To bring us yet more closer still
      To make us more as one.

      As I gaze upon your aged face
      A face I hold so dear
      I give you one last parting glance
      And slowly shuffle from the mirror.


      • That is beautiful — reminded me of my relationship with my father who passed away a couple of years ago. Did you write that? I do not recognize it.

      • yes I wrote it.

        One day I was looking in the mirror just after having a bypass and although I didn’t like what I was seeing, I began to remember what a great time I have had since teaming up with my body . . . and he is still hanging around, far stronger and more fit then he was when I wrote the poem . . . 🙂

    • I agree with you. Seniors very often have eye-opening stories to tell. I spent several years visiting senior living facilities, and made it a point to engage men of the World War II generation. I always asked them how they felt the day they heard the US had used atomic bombs on Japan. Many had been in training for missions that involved invading Japan, and the mortality rate was expected to be 90%. Every veteran said they and their colleagues in the services cheered when they heard about the bomb because it meant they would probably survive the war. As terrible as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, they had no doubt that millions of lives were saved by Truman’s decision. Talking to these veterans was like having a time machine. They knew exactly was they were doing when they heard the atomic bomb news, just like others know what they were doing when they heard about JFK’s assassination or the 9/11 tragedy. I encourage everyone to engage our seniors and hear some wonderful stories.

  11. How beautifully written. I find old people to be some of the best people around. They harbor the best stories and wisdom. I wish more people could view some of our greatest treasures in the same light as portrayed in this piece.

  12. I’m 71 and have learned the hard way nobody n my family wants to hear my many stories except for the grand kids. Too bad, I’m finally smart enough to give some good advice and nobody listens! . . . HA! that’s just the way it is I guess. . . . . nicely written piece I might add . . .

    • You can always count on the grandkids. Hopefully they carry the stories with them, I know my husband was tremendously influenced by this grandfather. It is pretty ironic, right when you have all these great things to share, no one wants to listen. Thank you for reading and your comment.

  13. Aging comes up against the problem of “as you sow, so shall you reap.” To be respected as one grows frail, one needs to have built up a reservoir of respect among friends and family. If one has survived into old age by being nasty, well…there probably won’t be a lot a people around who feel like giving that person respect. I agree with you that society could do a better job of respecting seniors in general, but individually, being respected in old age is something one has to work on throughout a lifetime.

  14. I would like to see more posts written about this topic, I’m so glad to read yours today. Thank-you for writing it. You point out the contradictions in how we view and categorize aging so well. If we could find a way to stop denying our mortal limits, perhaps our societies would become more kind, more gentle. The truth is viewing the mistreatment of those considered most vulnerable is an assault on our own sense of peace. A person can’t see another person being forgotten and ignored without becoming – on some level – deeply afraid.

    • I would like to see more on the topic too. Hkshuckleberry also commented on the fear and I think it’s a very valid point. We see ourselves, but I think we need to move past the fear because we miss out on so much if we don’t stay close and value those that have come before. I can understand the fear, but maybe if we continue to discuss that will get better. Thank you for visiting and your comments.

  15. Reading your wonderful post and giving it consideration from the opposite point of view.. (being old(er)).. it reminds me of a song lyrics written by John Prine… “Hello in There”. First hearing this song in the 70’s I thought it odd a man my age.. then young.. could be so sensitive about aging. The lyrics never left me.. It nice to revisit. Thank you for sharing.

  16. We love old things because we see beauty in them. When we look at old people we see ourselves a few years down the road and it fills most of us with fear. It reminds us that we too will age and eventually die.

  17. Nice piece. Reminds me of the story of The Blanket. Old people can get set in their ways. My counterpart grandpa just lost his car. He should not drive anymore to protect other people and himself. Slowly what we can do is taken away. But the one thing that stays is the smile towards our family, children and grandchildren. Yes, I will answer, I am 67.

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